Facebook has revealed that it removed a network of 37 Facebook accounts, 32 Pages, 11 Groups and 42 Instagram accounts that originated in India and used fake accounts masquerading as media outlets to target the Gulf region, the US, the UK and Canada.
Although the people behind this network attempted to conceal their identities and coordination, the Facebook investigation found links to aRep Global, a digital marketing firm in India.
"The individuals behind this activity used fake accounts -- some of which had been previously detected and disabled by our automated systems -- to manage Groups and Pages, and to drive people to off-platform websites masquerading as news outlets," said the social networking giant in its "February 2020 Coordinated Inauthentic Behavior Report".
Launched in 2013 in the Capital, aRep Global calls itself an online reputation management (ORM) firm and "works on the three pillars of repairing, branding and monitoring the online image of a business enterprise".
According to Facebook, some of these Pages also posed as news organisations and some Pages focused on sports events in Qatar. A number of these accounts purported to be local in countries they targeted, and some posed as journalists and activists.
The people behind this activity typically posted in English about local news and events including topics like Saudi Arabia's role in the Yemen conflict, the UAE and Saudi Arabia's human rights record, criticism of Manchester City, the Premier League soccer team, and praise for sporting events in Qatar.
About 29,000 accounts followed one or more of these Pages, about 1,100 accounts joined at least one of these Groups and around 74,000 people followed one or more of these Instagram accounts originated in India.
"Less than $450 in spending for ads on Facebook and Instagram paid for in US dollars, Indian rupee, and Bangladeshi taka. We found this activity as part of our internal investigations into suspected coordinated inauthentic behaviour in the Gulf region," said Facebook.
Last April, ahead of the general elections, Facebook announced that it had removed 687 spam Facebook Pages and accounts connected to individuals associated with the Congress Party's IT cell.
These Pages and accounts spent around Rs 27 lakh for ads on Facebook. The first ad ran in August 2014 and the most recent ad ran in March 2019, the social media giant said.
The individuals engaged in this coordinated inauthentic behaviour used fake accounts and joined various Groups to disseminate their content and increase engagement on their own Pages, said Nathaniel Gleicher, Head of Cybersecurity Policy at Facebook.
The social media giant also discovered spam activities carried out by an Indian IT firm -- Silver Touch which runs the pro-BJP page "The India Eye".